Southern Arizona’s only wind-energy farm is under a federal criminal investigation because its turbines killed an endangered bat and a federally protected golden eagle, law enforcement officials say.
An endangered lesser long-nosed bat was among an estimated 2,606 bats killed in turbines at the Willcox-area Red Horse Wind 2 project in its first year, a monitoring report prepared for the operator shows.
That’s more bats than the national, annual average killed at a wind farm, said Jim DeVos, an assistant Arizona Game and Fish Department director for wildlife management.
The lesser long-nosed bat is an endangered species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to decide in March or April whether to delist it due to expanding numbers of the bat in Southern Arizona, where it is a saguaro cactus pollinator.
In the wind farm’s first year, from July 2015 to July 2016, its 15 wind turbines, standing more than 400 feet tall, also killed an estimated 190 birds including the eagle, the company’s report shows.
That matches the western regional average for bird deaths at a wind farm, DeVos said. The golden eagle is protected from killing by the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.
The actual number of animal carcasses recovered at the wind farm that year was much lower: 226 bats and 12 birds.
The farm’s consultant, SWCA Environmental Consultants of Flagstaff, used computer models to make the larger estimates, said Todd Fogarty, a spokesman for the operator, Red Horse Wind 2 LLC.
The criminal investigation is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, said Tamara Kurey, a wildlife service special agent based in Rio Rico. The division is reviewing the case to determine if it should be prosecuted.
The case was referred to the Justice Department in December, said Kurey, who declined to release more details or case reports due to the pending investigation. A division spokeswoman didn’t respond to emailed questions about the investigation.
The wildlife service has received informal confirmation that more lesser long-nosed bat fatalities occurred at Red Horse after the first year, said Steve Spangle, a service field supervisor in Phoenix. The information came from an environmental consultant for the company, he said.